NEW DELHI, Dec 21: “I quit the sports,” declared one of the top wrestlers Sakshi Mallick hanging her boots shortly after Sanjay Singh, a close aide of the tainted former president of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) Brijbhushan Sharan Singh, was declared elected the new chief of the wrestlers’ body on Thursday.
Reacting to Sanjay Singh’s election, which is being seen as a continuity of leadership in the WFI, a weeping Olympic medallist and ace wrestler Mallick put her booths of the table during a press briefing and said she was quitting the sport. Ms Mallick said the wrestlers had wanted a woman at the helm of the wrestling federation. “But that did not happen… We fought, but if the new president is Brijbhushan’s aide, his business partner, then I quit wrestling.” She also broke down as she was leaving the venue of the press conference.
Though Sanjay Singh was claimed to be a “non-partisan” chief, the body’s former chief Brij Bhushan. who was accused of sexual harassment by some of India’s top wrestlers, declared “dabdaba tha, dabdaba rahega (I prevailed, I will prevail)”, indicating that his dominance would continue. Asked about Ms Mallick’s quitting, Brij Bhushan said, “I have nothing to do with this.”
Commonwealth and Asian Games Gold medallist Vinesh Phogat, who also broke into tears at the press conference, said women wrestlers will continue to face harassment and she has no clue “how to find justice in the country.” “The future of our wrestling career is in the dark. We do not know where to go,” she added.
Sanjay Singh called his election as president of the wrestling federation a victory of truth over lies and, in a reference to Brij Bhushan, he said an attempt was made to tarnish the reputation of a person whose character was spotless. Brij Bhushan’s aide Sanjay Singh got 40 out of the 47 votes in Thursday’s election, defeating Commonwealth Games Gold medallist Anita Sheoran. Ms Sheoran was backed by wrestlers including Mallick, Bajrang Punia, and Vinesh Phogat, who had protested against Brij Bhushan, a BJP Member of Parliament. In another significant development, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Mohan Yadav, who was in the race for the vice-president post, lost the elections.
Reacting to the election result, Brij Bhushan said it was a victory of the country’s wrestlers and that he hoped wrestling activities which were “stopped for 11 months” – since the protests against him began – would now resume.
The BJP MP also called Sanjay Singh, who has said he was “definitely close” to the former wrestling federation chief, a non-partisan person. “A message has been given. Every akhaada (wrestling academy) in the country is bursting firecrackers. Dabdabaa tha, dabdabaa rahega! I want to give the credit of victory to the wrestlers of the country and the electors. I want to thank the government as well. The elections were done on the instructions of the Supreme Court… the Centre went ahead to make sure elections happened and a non-partisan person was chosen as president,” Brij Bhushan said.
“This ‘grahan’ (eclipse) of 11 months on wrestling is over. Within 10 days, the landscape of wrestling will change again and we will perform in the Olympics the way people want us to,” he added.
Besides the president, a senior vice-president, four vice-presidents, a secretary-general, a treasurer, two joint secretaries and five executive members of the wrestling body were also elected. Most of the people who secured these posts are also seen as belonging to the Brij Bhushan camp.
Sanjay Singh is a long-time aide of Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who was WFI chief for 12 years. A six-time BJP MP from Uttar Pradesh, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh had to step aside after top wrestlers, including Ms Mallick accused him of sexually harassing women wrestlers.
Mr Punia, an Olympic bronze medallist, said it was unfortunate that the “government’s promise to us was not fulfilled”. “We are not linked to any party, we did not come here for politics. We were fighting for truth, but today an aide of Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh has become the WFI president,” he said.
In January this year, the three wrestlers led a huge protest at Jantar Mantar, accusing Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh of sexually harassing several wrestlers and demanding action against him. They called off their protest after the government ordered a probe. The wrestlers were also assured that no aide or relative of Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh would be allowed to contest the next polls of the wrestling body. While Brij Bhushan’s son Prateek and son-in-law Vishal Singh did not enter the poll contest, his aide Sanjay Singh’s nomination was cleared.
Sanjay Singh has earlier served as vice-president of the Uttar Pradesh wrestling body. He was part of the WFI’s last executive council and its joint secretary since 2019. Following his victory in today’s elections, Sanjay Singh said “There will be no injustice against any woman wrestler.”
The process for the WFI election began in July, but court cases kept delaying it. This led to the international wrestling body suspending WFI. The Supreme Court recently set aside a stay imposed by the Punjab and Haryana High Court, clearing the decks for the polls.